Good People vs. Bad People

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What makes someone a good person vs. a bad person? Good people are usually trustworthy, responsible, generous, polite, kind to others and honest.  Bad people tend to be selfish, irresponsible, deceptive and have a sense of entitlement. Despite attempting to steal $4.5 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a Wayne, New Jersey couple’s lawyer considered them to be “good people.” Their food stamp fraud scheme proved otherwise.

The New Jersey couple owned and operated a medium-sized grocery store in Paterson where they carried out their food stamp fraud scheme for more than four years. Court documents show that the two would allow food stamp beneficiaries to use their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to purchase five dollars of food. The male owner would charge the customer’s EBT card for $75, then give them some of the cash back while keeping the remaining portion for himself.

To conceal the food stamp fraud scheme, the owner wrote checks from the grocery store bank account containing SNAP fraud proceeds to a supplier. The supplier cashed the checks, then gave the fraud scheme proceeds back to the owners. (I’m sure the supplier took a cut too.) The store owner was generous in that he shared the government benefits that he stole with various family members who had no connection to the grocery store. (Perhaps this fraudster’s generosity was confusing to his lawyer who considered his clients to be “good people.”)

The illegal scheme was brought down by a customer who was directed by law enforcement agents to make 16 purchases at the New Jersey grocery store. The transactions provided the evidence needed to convict the store owners of food stamp fraud. (It’s important to share that this was not the couple’s first run-in with the law.) The man was previously barred from participating as a food stamp retailer because he allowed the exchange of SNAP benefits for cash at another store he owned. (To get around this ban, he listed someone else as the owner of his grocery store, so he could once again participate as a food stamp retailer.)

The 65-year-old man pleaded guilty to SNAP fraud and money laundering while his 61-year-old wife pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government through food stamp fraud. When sentenced, the SNAP fraud and money laundering charges could get the husband up to 40 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The wife could get up to five years behind bars and a fine of $250,000.

The New Jersey couple’s attorney stated that he was not sure how much of the $4.5 million they attempted to steal was kept but pointed out that they admitted their mistake. (Yes, but that’s because they were caught, not because they suddenly realized the crime they were committing was wrong.) Despite the generosity they showed to their family members by sharing their stolen wealth, these two deceptive, selfish and irresponsible individuals will no longer be entitled to receive food stamp benefits. (I call that a very good resolution to a very bad people problem.)

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article, N.J. husband and wife admit $4.5M food stamps fraud scheme,” published by USA Today on April 12, 2019.  

A New Jersey couple has admitted to a scheme in which their grocery store fraudulently exchanged food stamps for cash — totaling more than $4.5 million over four years — while they kept some of the money for themselves.

The couple, Ibrahim Zughbi, 65, and his wife, Miriam Zughbi, 61, of Wayne, New Jersey, owned and worked at Jamaica Meat Market in Paterson from 2014 to 2018, according to a statement from the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.